Representative Ron Stephens Weekly Capitol Update
March 28, 2008
By the end of this Friday, we will have completed 36 days of the 2008 General Assembly session. The following week we will conclude the session, most likely adjourning sine die on Friday.
This has been a short week as we were in session only two days to allow our colleagues in the Senate time to finish their fiscal year 2009 budget work. As directed by the State Constitution, all budget matters must begin in the House, so the Senate was waiting on us before they began.
One high interest bill we passed is Senate Resolution 845. The legislation would authorize a regional sales tax to pay for highway improvements in congested areas. It would create several regions across the state, known as special transportation districts, where local governments could agree to hold a referendum for voters to approve or reject a local one-cent sales tax. The key to this resolution is voter choice. In our version, the money collected would be kept entirely by the region for local road projects. The Senate version would require that 20 percent of the sales tax proceeds go to the state Department of Transportation. This bill will go to a conference committee to work out the differences. We approved this bill 136-35.
The fiscal year 2009 budget has been discussed. First, as has been widely reported, revenue estimates for FY 2009 will be down by $245 million. Our state's net growth is expected to be $635 million or 4.26 percent.
The biggest news in education was that we restored $90 million to the "austerity cuts" that were in the governor's budget. We also restored $1.3 million to Math Mentors - the superintendent's number one priority based on the overwhelming success of the Science Mentor program that the House created to raise test scores. We also have added $305 million across the two budgets to fund K-12 school construction and equipment needs. We added $114 million in additional funds to fully fund the Regents formula for our colleges while creating a $60 million bond to start the construction of a new dental school -- the only one in the state -- to ensure an adequate supply of dentists trained in state-of-the-art procedures.
With trauma care being one of the most important topics here at the capitol, our budget contains $5.5 million for equipment and $53,402,769 for distribution to aid existing trauma hospitals. Also on the health care front, over $80 million was added as provider increases for hospital, home health personal support, maternity, well-child care, ambulance, pharmacists, nursing homes, therapeutic resident care and dental services. This is for the 1.6 million Georgians receiving Medicaid and PeachCare services.
We put in $2 million for four new Community Health Centers, which provide primary care access in underserved areas of the state. These centers are the best deal in health care, as the state provides $250,000 to start-up in federally designated areas with significant access issues and then fully funds the on-going operations; this is for four start-ups and four existing centers adding mental health services.
We provided just over $1 million for the Meals on Wheels program. Funds are needed to replace federally withdrawn funds (Paper Plate Initiative) from the Nutrition Services Incentive Program. Meals are served in-home and congregate places such as senior centers. This will provide over 200,000 meals to at-risk seniors and disabled persons. In the realm of public safety, we added $20 million to continue the House's initiatives last year to retain and recruit public safety officers, as well as prevent the compression of salaries in between pay grades. This annualizes last year's increases for law enforcement officers in Public Safety.
Please do not hesitate to let me know your position or thoughts on issues that concern you. If you would like to reach me, please call me at (404) 656-5099 or write me at: State Rep. Ron Stephens ,228 CAP, State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.